The Relation Between Religion and Politics In Modern Liberalism

It is not difficult, says Maurice Cranston to straightforwardly point out that “a liberal is a man who believes in liberty”, however it is not an easy job to define the meaning of liberalism. He finds “different men at different time have meant different things by liberty” therefore he categorizes “liberalism” as ambiguous.[1] Since Liberals are in disagreement about the concept of liberty, consequently the liberal ideal of protecting individual liberty can lead to very different conceptions of the task of government. Isaiah Berlin is known to have advocated two conceptions of liberty. The first is what he calls a negative conception of liberty, which he elaborates as follows:
I am normally said to be free to the degree to which no man or body of men interferes with my activity. Political liberty in this sense is simply the area within which a man can act unobstructed by others. If I am prevented by others from doing what I could otherwise do, I am to that degree unfree; and if this area is contracted by other men beyond a certain minimum, I can be described as being coerced, or, it may be, enslaved. Coercion is not, however, a term that covers every form of inability. If I say that I am unable to jump more than ten feet in the air, or cannot read because I am would be eccentric to say that I am to that degree enslaved or coerced. Coercion implies the deliberate interference of other human beings within the area in which I could otherwise act. You lack political liberty or freedom only if you are prevented from attaining a goal by other human beings (Berlin, 1969: 122).

According to proponent of negative conception of liberty, the heart of liberty is the absence of coercion by others. Accordingly, the liberal state’s commitment to protecting liberty is essentially the job of ensuring that citizens do not coerce each other without compelling justification.
Berlin’s second conception of liberty is the positive conception of liberty. Here liberty does not mean the absent of coercion by other, rather it refers to that a person is freeman if he is autonomous and is able to be a master of himself. Berlin explain that conception as follow:
I wish my life and decisions to depend on myself, not on external forces of whatever kind. I wish to be the instrument of my own, not of other men’s act of will. I wish to be the subject, not an object, to be moved by reasons, by conscious purposes, which are my own, not by causes which affect me as it were, from outside. I wish to be somebody, not no body; a doer-deciding, not being decided for, self-directed and not acted upon by external nature or by other men as if I were thing, or animal, or slave incapable of playing a human role, that is of conceiving goals and policies of my own and realizing them. … I wish, above all, to be conscious of myself as a thinking, willing, active being, bearing responsibility for my choices and able to explain them by references to my own ideas and purposes. I feel free to the degree that I believe this is to be true, and enslaved to the degree that I am made to realize that it is not.
            Despite the powerful case for negative liberty, many liberals have been attracted to more positive conceptions of liberty. This is not surprising, since long before Berlin proposes a positive conception of liberty, Rousseau (1973 [1762]) seemed to have introduced that conception. That positive conception of liberty means that someone is free when one acted according to one's true will (the general will), is also advocated by Thomas Green. He acknowledged that must be of course admitted that every usage of the term [i.e., freedom] to express anything but a social and political relation of one man to other involves a metaphor...It always implies...some exemption from compulsion by another...(1986 [1895][2]: 229). Nevertheless, Green went on to claim that a person could be unfree if he is subject to an impulse or craving that cannot be controlled. Such a person, Green argued, is…in the condition of a bondsman who is carrying out the will of another, not his own’ (1986 [1895]: 228). Just as a slave is not doing what he really wants to do, one who is, say, an alcoholic is being led by a craving to look for satisfaction where it cannot, ultimately, be found.
For Berlin as well as Green, a person is free only if she is self-directed or autonomous. Running throughout liberal political theory is an ideal of a free person as one whose actions are in some sense her own. Such a person is not subject to compulsions, critically reflects on her ideals and so does not unreflectively follow custom and does not ignore her long-term interests for short-term pleasures. This ideal of freedom as autonomy has its roots not only in Rousseau's and Kant's political theory, but in John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. And today it is a dominant strain in liberalism, as witnessed by the work of S.I. Benn (1988), Gerald Dworkin (1988), and Joseph Raz (1986).
In line with the understanding that liberty is to mean that a freeman is an autonomous person, the duty of the state in the liberal democracy is nothing then to allow people to live their lives as they see fit to them. On the ground of this understanding, Walterstoff states that
Liberal democracy”, is that mode of governance that grants to all people within the territory of its governance equal protection under law, that grants to its citizen equal freedom in law to live out their lives as they see fit, and that requires of the state that it be neutral as among all the religions and comprehensive prospective represented in society.” (70).

Following Walterstorff’s definition of liberal democracy, we find that the basic principles of Liberalism include the equality of citizens before law and the religious liberty.  However, it is this commitment to these basic principles that creates “the political problematic”, namely the problem of the proper relation between religion and politics. Western scholars have proposed different solutions to this problematic and each solution seems very closely related to the goal or end-result that they want to achieve through their scholarship. The ways in which they try to accommodate the conflicting interests of the pluralistic and modern society are worth to be studied. By doing so, I will know the method of  research that those scholar employ and I can use that method while studying what Nahdaltul Ulama aims to advocate when it deals with the same question.  
John Rawls (1993) finds out that “the modern society is characterized not simply by a pluralism of comprehensive religious, philosophical and moral doctrines but by a pluralism of incompatible yet reasonable comprehensive doctrines” (p. xvi). Furthermore, he says: “no one of these doctrine is affirmed by citizens in general. Nor should one expect that in the foreseeable future one of them or some other reasonable doctrine will ever be affirmed by all or nearly all citizens”  (ibid.). In Rawls’s opinion, this is a normal way of life in a democratic society. If this is so, the question is, how is it possible to develop stability within this society? In order to maintain stability he proposes “political liberalism”.  In his “political liberalism”, Rawls does not consider religious conviction to be important in political discussion. Rather, he urges citizens to base their discussion on the principle of “justice as fairness” and to take it as a “freestanding principle”.
            To consider the principle of  “justice as fairness” as a “freestanding principle” is one of the reasons that religiously-influenced scholars refute Rawls’s “political liberalism”. Gamwell argues against Rawls’s restriction on the use of religious argument in political discussion. He considers that the use exclusively of  “the independent source” which is “justice as fairness” in political discussion tends to restrict religious freedom. To solve the political problematic and also to defend religious liberty he advances “the democratic resolution” in which he states that the relation between religion and politics should be both separationist and religionist in the following sense. It is separationist because all religions are separated from the state in the sense that the state may not explicitly endorse any answer to comprehensive question. That it is also religionist on the reason that religion is essential to the body politics in the sense that political decisions should imply the valid comprehensive conviction (Gamwell 1995, 205).
            Nicholas Walterstoff is also among the scholars who oppose those who separate religion from politics. He is of the opinion that religion should play an important role in the public life. To maintain the authenticity of people while solving the problem of the proper relation between religion and politics, he proposes “the consocial position”.  Walterstorff’s “consocial position” basically agrees with the liberal position but it opposes the competition-of-interests position concerning the goal of political discussions, decisions and actions and stresses that the goal is political justice. Furthermore it departs from the liberal position on two defining issues. First, it repudiates the quest for an independent source and imposes no moral restraint on the use of religious reasons. And second, it interprets the neutrality requirements, that the state be neutral with respect to religious and other comprehensive perspectives present in society, as requiring impartiality rather than separation (Walterstorff 1995, 115).
            The debate concerning the role of religion in the public sphere mentioned earlier shows that scholars use different approaches. Rawls thinks that religion is not important in political discussion while Gamwell and Walterstroff regard religion as essential to the political life of society. However all of them show their concern to find an accepted way to settle the problem, and that effort is an important case to be studied. In what follows, I will present in more detail three solutions proposed by Rawls, Walterstorff and Gamwell respectively.

[1] Maurice Cranston, “Liberalism” in Paul Edwards, ed. Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (New York: Macmillan Publishing  & Free Press, 1967).  Vol. 4 p. 456.  
[2] Thomas Hill Green, Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation and Other Essays, Paul Harris and John Morrow, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (1986 [1895]) .p.